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Alison Bechdel’s “Fun Home”: What does being “true to yourself” actually mean?

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Why I Read Fun Home

 

Fun Home is a book that I have studiously avoided reading for a long time because I thought it was somehow about perversion and abuse, and I have read my fair share of memoirs about that topic. 

 

You get to a point in life, or at least I have, where I am simply no longer interested in stories about certain topics.

 

Tolstoy said that “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” 

I don’t know about the families themselves, but STORIES about sad families seem to follow a pretty similar arc…probably having to do at least in part with the fact that the authors of these memoirs is always a similar type of person…someone who got out, but wanted, or was able, to look back.  

In the end, I was encouraged to read Fun Home because it is one of the few graphic books featured in 1000 Books to Read Before You Die, and one of the very few I hadn’t read, so I decided to check it out.

 

Oh yeah, and when I did check it out, the copy I received is one of the more mangled library books I have ever received, so I can see even in my very conservative, highly evangelical hometown, this book is popular.

 

Why you should read Fun Home

 

Ok, so first of all the title IS ironic, but not in the way you would expect.  The dedication reads, to Bechdel’s surviving family, “…we DID have fun”. 

 

What is ironic about the title is that Bechdel’s family had a side business that was a funeral home…apparently if your town is small enough, the funeral home IS a side business…and they affectionately called it the “fun hom”.  Get it?

 

Bechdel grew up in a beautiful, if you like the fussy look, Victorian home that was lovingly remodeled and furnished mainly by Bechdel’s father, who in addition to his “side gig” as a mortician, also worked as a high school English teacher.  Adding to that, he spent hours remodeling and refurbishing both their home and its furnishings.

 

Bechdel’s mother ALSO worked as a high school English teacher.  In her spare time, she played leading roles in various local theater productions.

 

All that, and we haven’t gotten to the hobbies of the three kids.

 

In the late, very late, 1970’s, Bechdel came to discover that she was a lesbian while in college.  In the 21st century, she probably would have figured it out in middle school or even earlier, but I can assure you…and I’m just a few years younger than she is…kids did  not know about this stuff in the 1970’s.  We all watched “Happy Days” on Tuesdays, “Little House on the Prairie” on Wednesdays, “The Waltons” on Thursdays, and reruns of “The Brady Bunch” on our local stations after school. 

 

But back to Bechdel…when she comes out to her parents, her dad takes it in stride, but her mom gets upset.  Then she finds out, from her mom, that her dad has had another “sideline” his entire adult life. 

 

Most of the story goes backwards and forwards in time, as Bechdel pieces together her father’s life and its relationship to her own.

 

The story is complicated, which I like, and there really are no rights are wrongs.  Bechdel isn’t even convinced her dad made the wrong choice about choosing to live “in the closet”.  She’s not even sure he was “in the closet”, or at least she’s not sure if he was gay or bi…or whatever.

 

The only part that is a bit skeevy is his apparent interest in adolescent boys, especially since he was a teacher.  As Bechdel relates it and depicts it, the boys are all past puberty and possible the age of consent, but while bringing the issue up, she largely leaves it unexamined.

 

As a teacher myself, another teacher’s sexual orientation is of zero concern, but an interest in students is another thing.  And for the record, no student can legally give consent to a teacher.  It’s a conflict of interest/power dynamic.  Just saying. 

 

So yeah, Bechdel’s treatment of this issue bothers me, and I consider it a flaw in the book. 

 

Part of me still wants to say, “The 70’s were different”, but the fact is wrong is wrong.  I’ve seen too much of what comes of these issues to lightly dismiss it.

Don’t feel that this book isn’t for you if you aren’t part of the LBGTQ community. The lesbian aspect of the book is almost a byproduct. The book is really about our characteristics and our family’s characteristics and which are good and which are flaws.

 

Who is Alison Bechdel?

Writing about the author in this case seems redundant since the book is a memoir, but for the record, Alison Bechdel was born in 1960 and grew up in Pennsylvania. She now lives in Vermont.

You can follow her through her website, dykestowatchoutfor.com

There is a documentary about her on Amazon Prime called The Paper Mirror.

I also found this great “reading” of Fun Home done in 2006 at the Burlington Book Festival. Bechdel reads the narration while you view and read slides of panels from the book.

You can also find a detailed article on Bechdel in The New Yorker called “Drawn From Life”…but I skipped through it a bit because it goes into too much detail about Bechdel’s follow up to Fun Home, Are You My Mother? because I haven’t read it, and I want to.

NOT by Alison Bechdel

Compendium of Bechdel’s website

And watch for this in April, 2021:

There is already a collection of criticism on Bechdel’s work. Is that cool or what?

One of the things I enjoyed about Fun Home are the literary connections. That happens if you have been raised by two English teachers. Ask my daughter…being raised by one is bad enough!

She writes about recognizing her family in “The Addams Family”…not the T.V. family and definitely not the movie family, but the family in the original New Yorker cartoons.


Photo of the main cast of the television program The Addams Family. Standing back from left—John Astin (Gomez), Ted Cassidy (Lurch). Standing, front—Lisa Loring (Wednesday), Ken Weatherwax (Pugsley). Seated-Carolyn Jones (Morticia). 14 August 1964

ABC Television / Public domain

Just the fact that Bechdel’s family had The New Yorker around her house tells you something…only a certain kind of suburban family does that.

In my opinion, some people don’t talk about it and some people leave them on the coffee table.

But anyway, that one analogy told me a lot.

Share your thoughts! We want to hear your perspective and most definitely your reading recommendations!